What’s in a name, sport?

I was thinking about Jamie Elliott’s mark of the year 2013 (Round 14, AAMI Stadium, Saturday, 29th June 2013, Q2 9 minutes). It’s the sort of thing that I go to the footy for, justifying the price of admission.

But taking an economic rationalist or Moneyball look at it, what was it worth?

Elliott went back and slotted the goal, so it delivered 6 points to the team. But Collingwood would have got 6 points if Elliott (or anyone else) had taken an ugly mark and kicked a goal. Or even sharked the ball off the back of the pack and sunk it.

Buddy Franklin won goal of the year, but it was worth the same 6 points earned by every other goal kicked that year.

The player doesn’t get credit for degree of difficulty as he might in diving (the water sport, not the football ignominy). An attractive mark, even mark of the year, in and of itself, delivers nothing to a team’s score. A goal kicked on the non-dominant foot only delivers 6 points. No bonus points are awarded for goals kicked from deep in the pocket, ostensibly from an impossible angle – though the act of kicking the goal gives the lie to its impossibility. We’ll forgive the commentator’s hyperbole.

Collingwood was trounced on the night. Elliott had an otherwise dirty night: that was the only goal he kicked (1.2); by most measures he had the second least impact on the game, the least impact coming from the player who was probably the sub.

It is not my intention to bag Elliott; it is to examine our game and sport in general.

Like all scoundrels, my first port of call is a dictionary for a definition of sport. There are dozens of definitions. The ones that seem relevant talk about physical exertion and skill.

I then looked further. It struck me that the Olympic Games were about sport:

The Olympic motto is made up of three Latin words :

Citius - Altius - Fortius. These words mean Faster - Higher - Stronger.


So I get why running is considered a sport: the person who runs faster wins. It’s objectively measurable. In theory, you don’t have to have the competitors run at the same time in the same place; you could just measure the times. Of course that’s not how it’s usually done and I accept the logic. But when we talk about the world record for the 100 metres, the athlete who breaks the current record always does so at a different time from his predecessor and often in a different place (think Olympic games, for example).

Similarly, I get why high jumping and pole vault are considered sports. These fit the notion of higher in the sense of altitude. Again, objectively measurable. Weight lifting is an example of a sport whose winner is stronger.

It’s easy enough to accept that team sports like football and basketball satisfy the criterion of higher in the sense of a higher score. The score itself is based on an objective measure.

It should be noted that all sports have rules and it is intended that the glory accrue to the participants who achieve the target (faster, higher, stronger) within the rules. So, for instance, the ball may find the back of the net, but it ain’t a goal if it was deemed offside.

So what are we to make of gymnastics, diving, figure skating? They fit the notion of a higher score, but the score is subjective. The wikipedia page for Torvill and Dean notes (my emphasis):

… which included artistic impression scores of 6.0 from every judge …


Even boxing could be considered dodgy. It satisfies the notion of stronger but (again my emphasis) the scoring is

based on punches that connect, defense, knockdowns, and other, more subjective, measures.


There are two problems with subjective scoring: the process is corruptible; and, even with goodwill, the same person may not measure the same activity the same way.

When I was considering this article, I was going to say that, despite being a hopeless Collingwood tragic, in my opinion Elliott’s was not the best of the three finalists. But when I went to check on the marks, I wasn’t sure which mark I had considered better. Now I vacillate between Schulz and Elliott. And Naitanui.

Then I get distracted and think, do we mean prettiest? because Elliott’s probably is. But if we mean most difficult then Elliott is behind the other two – because he has made it look so easy! NicNat is so far back, for most of the footage, he’s not even in the contest. As Matthews (I think) says, “How could anyone mark that?”

Even when the criteria are objective, questions can be asked. Archery is about accuracy; there is a mechanism for scoring. It certainly involves skill, but does it involve physical exertion? I wouldn’t have thought so. Is skill enough? Rifle shooting (Summer Olympics) is in the same category.

What can we make of cycling? Yes, the cyclist who rides the fastest wins (though watching some of the Olympic cycling events you’d be hard put to believe it – but let’s not go there). My question here is what is being measured? I reckon if they were fair dinkum, the cyclists would not be allowed to use their own bikes; the race organisers would provide a standard bike to each competitor. Otherwise the competition may be measuring – at least to some extent – the equipment.

Formula One is at least unambiguous about equipment.

The results of each race are evaluated using a points system to determine two annual World Championships, one for the drivers and one for the constructors.


Whether there is any physical exertion on the part of the driver is debatable. Back in the days when I was a kid and my dad drove a Rolls Canardly (rolls down the hills but can hardly get up), it seemed to me that dad was working as hard as the car on some of the family trips – usually to far distant and exotic places like Lake Emerald. But I cannot say that I have experienced any such inconvenience driving cars at least going back to the start of the millennium, probably further.

It’s a moot point whether the Formula One competition is really best set up to achieve its objectives. It would be fairer if the drivers and the cars were shuffled from event to event. Or each driver was measured on the total of his times over several laps in each constructor’s car. That would take the car out of the equation for the drivers. And the constructors could get robots to drive their cars to take the drivers out of the equation. But I fear I’m getting silly.

The constructors may be in competition, but it might not be a sport: no physical exertion.

Perhaps that’s a good note on which to finish. From my analysis, I think it’s fair to say that all sports are competitions, but not all competitions could be called sport.

For readers of this blog, it may make no difference. They are likely dedicated to footy. Me, I’m pleased to conclude that footy is a sport. I think in our passion that’s something we can at times forget.

About Charlie Krebs

The Footy Bogan is a self-confessed unrepentant Collingwood tragic. For more years than he cares to remember he has been writing about footy, mainly Collingwood, but sometimes, when provoked, about related matters. He started his self-titled blog in July 2011 when - but you can read all about that at http://thefootybogan.blogspot.com.au/


  1. Stephen Goddard says

    Interesting ideas. Well written. Strong ending.
    Loved the reference to the Rolls.
    And I thought it was to GM that we were all beHolden.

    I don’t think that such a complex art form as marking is really measurable. It’s more of a feeling. And who needs Best anyway? Maybe everything we admire is just too subjective: because there’s so much of ‘me’ in ‘admire’.

    Me, I don’t like ‘screamers’ – either on the field or off. Just too dangerous. Especially when the attempt is missed, deemed ‘unrealistic’ and becomes a turnover. It could’ve been going our way.

    I really admire grabs where a player lands on their feet and can get up to take the kick. I really like goals on the run, so I like the idea of a player dishing it off to a designated goal-kicker running past. It also takes the pressure off the player who has just exerted so much energy leading and marking. So rather than the childish (“look at me Mum, I’m flying”) emphasis on taking a specky, I prefer a highlight reel with marks that stick: especially when marked with hands outstretched, like Travis Clunk.

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